Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

i8                             THE GAY GENIUS

very common words. In the voluminous tomes of Szema Chien, t< ,
greatest historian of China, we cannot find the word t'an, meani   *
"talk" or "conversation", because that was the historian's father's p  K
sonal name. There was a man by the name of Chao T'an—he h  .,
arbitrarily to change his name to Chao T'ung. In the same way t \<,
author of the Later Han History had to avoid the personal name   \,
his father, T'ai, and today we cannot find that word in all its hundr -
and twenty volumes of verbiage. The personal name of the father
the poet Li Ao happened to be the common word meaning "now'
thus the poet had always to use an archaic word for the contemporary
moment. The same thing resulted from the taboo with respect to the
personal names of the emperors of a ruling dynasty. A candidate &,
the state examinations was expelled if his name contained a WOK
identical with any of the personal names of the^ preceding emperors c
the dynasty. As it happened, the emperors of a dynasty were usual1 -
known by their reigns or their posthumous titles, so that many schok
did forget about the emperors' personal names and were expellei
Sometimes an emperor would fail in this way himself, as no one alwa
remembers his ancestors' names back for ten generations. In a momei
of forgetfulness an "emperor once named a new pavilion and the
suddenly realised that he had used a tabooed word—the name c.
his ancestor. No sooner was the name conferred than it had to b
changed.

Su Tungpo's father, Su Shim, was a reticent man, and as far as h:
political ambitions were concerned, he died disappointed, although fc %,
hopes for literary and official honours were realised in the persons <
his .two sons before he died. Possessing a high intelligence, severe i
temperament, independent in mind, and crotchety in character, Su
Shim was not a man easy to get along with. He is known to this day
as the one great scholar who did not seriously begin to study until he
was twenty-seven. This is usually pointed out to young children as an
example to prove that with determination and industry, success always
awaits a man; though a bright child might deduce the opposite con-
clusion that one did not have to begin to study in childhood. And the
fact is, Su Shun had full opportunity to learn to read and write in child-
hood; it seems that there was enough ruggedness in this individual to
resist coercion and resent the formal education of those times. We
know that many brilliant children do. It cannot be true that he did
not learn to read and write at all in childhood, but rather that he com-
pletely wasted his childhood years. Yet, he made enough impression
as a young man for the Cheng family to be willing to make him their
son-in-law. Equally amazing is the fact that, starting at the late age of
twenty-seven, he did achieve such a high literary fame, a fame which
was by no means totally eclipsed by his brilliant sons.                v/v ^